10/11/2002 12:00AM

New sires rattle and Storm Cat rolls

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - If the 2-year-old racing can't get any more exciting, then it must be Breeders' Cup time. The colts and fillies with the most obvious chances at next year's top races are showing what they can do on the racetrack, and the opportunities are nearly endless for gamblers, breeders, fans, and owners brimming with hope.

This past weekend had more than its share of exciting preps for the Breeders' Cup juvenile races. The first graded winners by Awesome Again and Touch Gold won, respectively, the Champagne (Toccet) and Oak Leaf (Composure).

These two sons of leading sire Deputy Minister both stand in Kentucky at Adena Springs and have their first racers this year. Their stock seems to be appreciating the increasing distances of October racing.

Freshman sire Coronado's Quest had his first group winner on Sept. 28, Al Jadeed in the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes at Ascot, and he also is getting runners who are starting to win now that the distances are lengthening and the weather is turning colder. Coronado's Quest stands at Claiborne, as does Pulpit, whose son Sky Mesa was a strong four-length winner of the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. Sky Mesa is from Pulpit's second crop of runners and is out of the Storm Cat mare Caress.

These four sires, however, are the young guns in the stallion world. And the world's most commercially successful stallion, Storm Cat, showed not once again but actually twice why he is the biggest beast on the stallion block.

Storm Flag Flying, a handsome daughter of Storm Cat and My Flag (winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in 1995), won the Frizette Stakes at Belmont, and Hold That Tiger, a $1.1 million weanling by Storm Cat, took home the cash and the glory in the Group 1 Grand Criterium at Longchamp the next day.

Battling with the talented Unbridled filly Santa Catarina, Storm Flag Flying put the other Frizette fillies in their place, as the third-place finisher was 13 1/4 lengths behind the winner. Santa Catarina, who is out of Storm Cat's daughter Purrfectly, was only two lengths off the winner, however, and she appears to be a filly capable of further improvement at 3.

Hold That Tiger most impressive of all

Impressive as Storm Flag Flying appeared in her prep for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, the most astounding performance by a 2-year-old came in the Group 1 Grand Criterium at Longchamp on Sunday. The winner was Storm Cat's son Hold That Tiger, who swept aside his rivals with an exceptional change of pace in the final 200 meters that had to be seen to be fully appreciated. The powerful chestnut colt did not start smoothly and gave his more alert rivals a few jumps before he was in gear.

Hold That Tiger was absolutely last 250 meters from the winning post, and his admirers generally turned their attention elsewhere, because the colt appeared out of contention. Hold That Tiger really began to make up ground on his foes in the last 150 meters, sweeping into view of the international telecast audience and jetting past his opponents to win by a half-length.

Owned by Michael Tabor and Susan Magnier and trained by Aidan O'Brien, the colt's connections were surprised by the turn of events, as Hold That Tiger had been beaten into last in his previous start, the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes in Ireland, and appeared headed for that sort of result again before the colt found himself and became a Group 1 winner.

Hold That Tiger's turn of foot was spectacular, and the result of the Grand Criterium is causing his connections to ponder whether they should try to emulate their BC success of last year with Johannesburg. Hold That Tiger has the pedigree and the finishing speed to make it worth the gamble.

The colt won his first two starts in Ireland, including the Group 3 Railway Stakes before being hopelessly beaten in the Phoenix Stakes. Although several horses in the O'Brien stable fell ill in the late summer, that result provoked deep concerns about Hold That Tiger. Now, most observers will write off the Phoenix as the effects of illness or a bad day.

Hold That Tiger is a half-brother to Belmont Stakes winner Editor's Note and stakes winners Catfriend and Catnip. His sire's recognition, his siblings' success, and his good family made the Coolmore group spend $1.1 million to acquire the colt as a weanling at the Keeneland November sale in 2000.

A handsome and very strongly made colt, Hold That Tiger is out of the Caveat mare Beware of the Cat. She is out of the grand old broodmare T.C. Kitten. Beware of the Cat is one of T.C. Kitten's three stakes winners and is a half-sister to stakes-placed Island Kitty. And Island Kitty is the dam of Hennessy, sire of last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Johannesburg. Could a pedigree possibly say more strongly, "Take me to the Breeders' Cup today?"